This story is part of a special issue examining the Barnard-Columbia relationship, 30 years after Columbia Columbia decided to go coed and Barnard decided not to merge with Columbia. Check out the rest of the issue here.
In an 1985 interview for Spectator, Marjorie Tversky—then associate director of athletics at Columbia, but formerly Barnard’s athletic director—was asked what she thought the future of the Columbia-Barnard Athletic Consortium would be.
“I see the program expanding in terms of opportunities,” she said. “I see it becoming enriched with the calibre of student-athlete as we get better at recruiting. I’m hopeful that in the next year or two crew and soccer will be elevated to varsity status. … We’ve been getting greater spectator support in the sports of volleyball and basketball. People come to see what’s going on, and they get caught up in the excitement. I think we will see spectator support continue to grow.”
In the 27 years that have passed since this interview, many of Tversky’s predictions, or wishes, have come to fruition. The program has expanded tremendously, with 332 female athletes competing on 15 varsity teams. Crew, now called rowing, is a varsity program and the women’s soccer team just celebrated its 25th anniversary as a varsity team. Over 600 people attended the women’s volleyball team’s match against Yale this past fall.
The flowering of the women’s sports program at Columbia is due in large part to the Columbia-Barnard Athletic Consortium that was established in 1983, when Columbia College went coed. It allows students from both schools to compete on the same team representing the University.
The Consortium, like the general Columbia-Barnard relationship, is unique. It is one of only three such consortia, and the only one at the Division I level. Women’s basketball head coach Paul Nixon explains that this one-of-a-kind situation makes playing at Columbia more appealing.
“Barnard College is not just the top liberal arts college for women in the world, it is also the only women’s college that offers its students the opportunity to compete in NCAA Division I athletics,” Nixon said.
As can be seen from Tversky’s interview, a lot has changed since the Consortium was first founded.
While there are many benefits to the Consortium, it does complicate things a bit. For example, Title IX requires that men and women have equal opportunity to participate in intercollegiate athletics in relative proportional to their overall enrollment. Because of the Consortium, Barnard students are included in the overall undergraduate population. This means that, based on 2010 enrollment numbers, Columbia is 60.62 percent female. Of that 60.62 percent, 38.99 percent attend Barnard.
While there is some flexibility in how Title IX’s proportionality requirement is applied—there are 421 male athletes and 332 female athletes—Barnard’s inclusion in the Consortium makes it difficult for the athletic department to add additional men’s programs. Though there are more male athletes currently participating in Columbia athletics, there are more women’s varsity teams.
The two most recent varsity programs added at Columbia were men’s and women’s squash. Because both a men’s and a women’s team were added, the male athlete to female athlete ratio remained more or less the same. However, Columbia is the only Ivy League school without a varsity men’s lacrosse team. While there are certainly other factors in play—mainly facilities—the Consortium is part of the reason why adding a men’s lacrosse program would be difficult.
Even though most coaches make an effort to educate potential recruits about Barnard, Barnard students are still underrepresented in the athletics program. Though Barnard women make up over a third of the undergraduate female population, they represent just 12.95 percent of female athletes. Three varsity programs—field hockey, golf, and volleyball—currently do not have any Barnard students on their rosters.
This number—12.95 percent or 43 women—has been trending down since the Consortium’s beginning. In the first year of the Consortium, there were 91 Barnard students on the eight women’s varsity teams in existence. Ten years later, that number dropped to 68 women on 10 varsity teams.
Still, Nixon insists that the Consortium is a very helpful recruiting tool.
“It gives our prospective student-athletes more options,” Nixon said. “We always present both Barnard and Columbia as options for our prospective student-athletes, explain the strengths and differences of each college, and let them decide. It has helped us in recruiting because it is not only a situation that is unique within the Ivy League, but is a one-of-a-kind opportunity for all of NCAA Division 1 basketball.”
The women’s basketball team is currently 23.53 percent Barnard students, with four out of the 17 women listed on the roster hailing from the west side of Broadway.
“The Consortium, in my time here, has grown stronger and helped unify the student bodies and alumnae bases of both campuses under the umbrella of supporting Columbia University athletics,” Nixon said. “It has been a very positive thing for Columbia women’s basketball!”